Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Disguise Characters and Avoid a Law Suit

Have you ever thought of using a real person in a story? I’ve been tempted, but I’ve stopped short of actually making such an important decision. Think twice or three times before you make a character out of your Aunt Nellie. If you go ahead and do it there can be social and legal consequences.

First, ask yourself these questions:

Is What I’m Writing Libelous?

Is Aunt Nellie a public figure?

Is Aunt Nellie dead?

If I’m sued, who will bear the legal expenses?

Whose feelings will be hurt by this book, and how much?

But if the success of your story demands you borrow Aunt Nellie’s character, then be very CAREFUL! And beware of those potential pitfalls.

Unfortunately there aren’t definitive rules concerning exactly how much you need to disguise Aunt Nellie to protect yourself.

Just because she’s your aunt she won’t automatically protect you. Her hotshot lawyer husband or son might rub his hands in anticipation of a juicy lawsuit. Because you’re an author he might assume you’re rich! I can hear laughter erupting from Seekers and Seeker Villagers.

All warnings considered, what if you want to disregard conventional wisdom and write about someone you know anyway? You take your chances. But if you insist, there are a few tips I’m going to follow myself when I transform an old friend into a newly minted fictional character.

Really, I’ve planned to do this for a long time although I hadn’t found the right place for her until recently. I’ll risk it because she’s such a vivid character she’s worth the gamble. But I admit I haven’t seen my friend in years since we live thousands of miles apart. She’s not a fiction reader. So I think I’m quite safe if I change enough about her to keep people from guessing who she is.

Assuming you’re still in close contact with your friend/acquaintance turned story character, make sure you disguise her extra well. But be careful not to obliterate her personality or you’ll lose her essence which is the very thing that makes her so interesting.

Consider changing her sex, locale, profession, appearance and specific quirks. Ask yourself if these alterations are enough to hide Aunt Nellie’s true identity from her, her friends and relatives. Don’t just give her a superficial disguise. Change her!

Here’s a sketch of my friend who I’ll call Jo because she reminds me of Jo March in Little Women. She’s tall, athletic, forceful, determined, talented, extroverted, out spoken, a leader, but in her own opinion, a misfit. Jo is a Christian who witnesses to anyone who’ll listen whenever she gets the opportunity. She’s so earnest and winsome no one takes offense. But Jo never manages to find the perfect church home because (I think) she expects too much from frail and fallible human beings. No church can measure up to her ideal.

Jo is also a wife and mother, sheep farmer who delivers the lambs by herself each March, a spinner of yarn, a knitter, a skier, an organic gardener and the head of the local farmer’s market. If I use these jobs and hobbies in my story people would recognize her without a doubt.

When you model your character after a real person remember to respect your friend and her feelings.

Don’t give your story person terrible flaws, don’t make her the villain. You might be tempted to turn someone you dislike into the villain, but my advice is to be kind and generous. Any disagreements about this???

I’m going to move my country girl Jo into town, keep her friendly personality and interest in crafts. She now owns and operates a quilt shop and teaches quilting classes. Her appearance and background have changed. I’ll add a feminine side and maybe downplay her tomboyish athleticism except for her ice skating hobby. She’s more interested in clothes and shoes and wouldn’t feel at home mucking around the barn anymore.

To circumvent the real Jo’s obvious personality traits I’m going to keep her essence and put her in new situations that my real friend hasn’t faced.

For example, I’ll take Jo’s leadership abilities and out spoken opinions and pit her against the dictatorial pastor who hates for anyone to question his ideas or management style. She wants to withdraw and go her own way, but the storyline requires she stay involved for the sake of her friends.

I could’ve placed her in a schoolroom or in an office instead of a church and her determination to stand up for her beliefs and friends would still prevail. Jo won’t fight unless she feels it’s necessary.

Loyalty is important to her. Her insecurity and instinct to keep out of this conflict clashes with her allegiance to her friends. So poor Jo has to struggle with herself and her pastor. These are the personality traits that make her Jo.

Of course my real friend has lots of other traits and some of these contradict each other too. If I include all of them, or even a few too many of them, the characterization and the plot will become too complicated and unfocused.

Downplay or subtract some of your model’s personality elements because story characters are simplified versions of the real people.

Add personality traits that will strengthen the story’s meaning. Twist her traits to fit the plot.
You’re creating a fictional Jo, you’re not writing a biography of your friend.

Another way to disguise characters is to combine two or more real-life people. Incorporate characteristics of each and come up with someone entirely new and different from the models.

Remember that basing fictional people on real people can be a great starting point, but it’s only a starting point. You’re not merely disguising a real person, you’re creating a new fictional character who’ll live on the printed page.

As a writer or as a reader how would you build a fictional Jo with the traits from the real model?

If you’d like a chance to win a package of Heartsong Presents romances please leave your e-mail address.


  1. I think it would be awfully difficult to start out with a character you know from real life and keep them "real." The story changes so many things. Unless you were trying to tell their story and well that, I think, would be hard not to get in trouble for.

    I once started off with someone in town to be my hero (He was the only guy that I knew in my area that could pull off what I wanted) and well, that character, though based on him is absolutely not him, it was just my jumping off point. He has a few things still similar in interests but it also helps if you write historical, they don't feel the same. :)

  2. I like to think I've done this. Taken bits and pieces of different people and molded them into a new person.

    I have a character with a lovely Appalachian accent but that's one of few characteristics that goes along with our own sweet spicy person who shall remain nameless.

    This particular Appalachian accented character is going to have a hero who is loosely based on [and he knows this and encourages it] a friend of mine. Not completely, but to share some of his incredible life story.

    I love to use snippets, bits and pieces, but not pick up a whole friend and drop them in.

    But the biggest one...

    Last year's SpeedBo...

    One of my favorite managers at my favorite Panera insisted I name a character after him. I did - and physically, he resembled that guy. But seven weeks later, he was killed in a car accident. Ruthy called him and his girlfriend "prairie married". That story is special in so many ways and not just because of his character.

    I'm gonna cry if I'm not careful... ;)

  3. Wow, i'm weepy, too. Great post, my Mom is Nellie. Her cousin wrote and self published her autobiography and of course, Mom featured in a lot of the stories. i don't think Mom knew how much she would be in them, but she took it well. This cousin's grandchildren call Mom book Nellie. Don't think i'd like to see my name in stories, but it's cool if you use someone as a jump-off. i would love to feature your novel on my blog.


  4. HI Cara,
    I have used family stories as jumping points in my books, so I've used events, but not people I know. I work to make my characters originals. Maybe it's because of my non-fiction writing and the scrutiny I once received from a literary attorney, but I'm overly sensitive on this topic. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Oh,forgot my email - spooler at comcast dot net Would love to be in the drawing as it's hard to find Heartsongs in my bookstore.

  6. In my Christmas Novella contained in the At Home for Christmas 2-ebook collection I did with Robin Lee Hatcher the hero and heroine were my grandma and grandpa, my mother's parents. The set up for the story was theres and generally I described them as my grandma and grandpa looked (as I imagined them as young people, plus of course more beautiful for fictional purposes, of course, not that my grandparents were lovely...but I digress.....)
    But I changed so much.
    For one thing, grandpa was a farmer, I made him a rancher (I needed a cowboy, duh)
    I set it backward in history from their lives, about thirty years.
    I moved them to western Nebraska, ranch country, rather than south eastern Nebraska, farm country.
    It was fun EXCEPT, so many people in my family had said, "You ought to write grandma and grandpa's story." Because they really did have an unusual lovestory.
    But then when I wrote it, well, honestly, by all accounts, Grandma and Grandpa were fine Christian people who had a nice marriage with few surprises.
    So I had to mess them up a little and my mom kept saying, "But that's not how it was."
    Fortunately for me my mom has no Kindle and no access to ebooks, something that could be easily remedies, but she doesn't seem to want to read a bunch of made up stuff about her parents, and who can blame her.

  7. I've had people ask me lots of times, "Do you use people you know in your stories?"
    My standard answer is, "Real people are a little too reasonable and sane to really work in a book. So sometimes some thing someone does might inspire a character but I almost immediately warp them beyond recognition."

  8. "Warp them beyond recognition"

    Why doesn't it surprise me you do that, Mary?

  9. Hi Cara:

    I think that what makes a person most interesting is their personality. I would be most interested in modeling personalities from real people and then changing everything else according to the needs of the story.

    It would be hard to claim an author stole your personality when nothing else matches. Yet we often remember personalities long after we’ve forgotten physical descriptions and character names.

    I remember your heroine in “Love on a Dime” but I can’t recall her physical description or name.


  10. Oooo, this is a fun post! I'm a terrible person about stealing quirks and traits and physical attributes. In the book I put on Amazon in Jan (Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits) it was a book I modeled on the Unviersity of Oregon. My college friends were howling as they read it, becuase even though it's set in Mississippi, the campus is UO all over. A favorite prof gets his office stolen, the department secretary for one of my majors had a chai tea habit, even our awful rescue cat got in the book.
    I don't know if it's as fun for people who weren't there, but one of my friends called me and yelled "PEGASUS PIZZA" in my ear. Yeah, our favorite pizza dive found its way in. :D It was great fun!

    The book I put up in February (All the Blue of Heaven) is modeled after my grandparents' love story, and the heroine is actually named after my grandmother, Alberta Hathaway. They had a very long separation at the beginning of their romance (WWII intervened) , which is the same. But the rest of the story is quite different, since they got married a week after they were reunited, and of course that would be a really strane romance. We can't have the entire book about their separation and then the very end is the wedding. Ugh.

    So fictional grandma and grandpa had to work their way through the pain of reconcilation and learning to build a new future together.

    My mother understands it's a fiction book and just enjoys seeing her mother's name as a HEROINE. :)She doesn't really care whether any of the other details are correct.

    And I hope she doesn't sue me.

  11. Uh oh. I just finished a book about a quilt my sister made for me. Hm. I wonder if she'll claim rights to any profits!

    It's an amazing quilt, there's a picture on my facebook page somewhere. It's a quilt of books on a bookshelf. :) Perfect for me.

  12. There's an older lady who comes into my store about once a week.

    She always wears a faded bandana around her hair, tied under her chin. It doesn't matter the temperature outside. She has always looks worried and is always in a hurry. And I wonder what her story is.

    Some characters will tell you more than you want to know. But not this lady. She barely says a word.

    One day she'll be a character in my story, but I'll continue to wonder about the real woman.

    Thanks for sharing today.

    Jackie L.

  13. Good morning!

    Melissa, did anyone recognize the man you modeled your hero after?

    I've known a few memorable people I'd love to put in a book exactly as they are but they're so distinctive I wouldn't dare.

    I also think their personalities are too strong for the written page. For example, one is a crazy, fun lady, but a bit promiscuous. I'd certainly have to change that! Her flaws would stand out way too much in a book.

  14. Carol, I'm so sorry about your friend. That's terribly sad. He must've been a great person if you wanted to put him in a story.

    Overall, I think it's safe to combine bits and pieces of a few people and make a 'new' person. But we always have to be careful.

  15. Marianne, my great aunt was Nellie. She was quite a character. My mother used to tell me funny stories about her all the time. Nelllie had lots of distinctive personality quirks that would make her really stand out in a book. She died years ago so I could use her in a story now without worrying she'd recognize herself.

  16. Lyndee, I bet you have a story about dealing with a literary attorney, but I'd be afraid to write it! And you probably wouldn't want to relive it.

    I had an audit from an IRS agent that would make a great story, but it would be like a nightmare to relive. We won, but just the same I shoved the whole event out of my mind.

  17. Shortly after my grandfather passed away last year, I heard bits and pieces of how my grandparents shared their first kiss. I thought that it would make a great story to write their love story. I tried and tried to get the scene to work out the way I wanted, even down to their names. It didn't work. So I set it aside and then recently took it a different direction. I'm still planning on writing their love story, but I've found names that seem to "fit" for them. And I've started it by talking about the locket that none of my grandmother's children/grandchildren knew existed until we were putting together pictures for the slide show at my grandfather's funeral. Some of my details will be the same. Both will have large families. He fought in the Navy in WWII. She was a few years older than him. Things like that. I've not yet decided if I will keep them on the small farming community they lived during the 1930's-1940's. I've decided that my story itself, at least the bulk of it, will take place during the WWII years, with a prologue and epilogue set in 2007.

    So maybe those changes will help me write it as opposed to forcing the story to be EXACTLY like the way it really happened. Besides the majority of their siblings (who were there when their first kiss happened) are no longer alive for me to ask questions to. And of course my own aunts and uncles only know the barest of details.

    I'd love to be entered to win the book collection. dawn(dot)janis(at)gmail(dot)com

  18. Lyndee, I read that Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of Downton Abbey, used a story he heard about for the Lady Mary/Pamuk storyline. I think he read about it or a friend read about it in his aunt's diary. I'm sure he changed it around for plot purposes, but he used the idea.

  19. I have used traits of people that I know but never based a character on a real person. Yet, I've had people read the book(s) and say, I think I know who that is!

  20. HI Cara, Great fun today. Yes, we must have our friends and acquaintances in our books. After all that is how we know a character. We have to know those traits exist and what people's reaction to them are.

    Great to mix and match though.

  21. James Herriott (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc.) was a master at disguising the families in his stories, but he once said that the person who "reconditioned" the Golden Retriever who had been chained, neglected and starved, recognized herself.

    And loved it.

    He wrote real stories, re-told and changed details of animals, farms, etc. and some of his characters had probably died by the time he started writing, but he said he had to be very careful to be honest, fun and not offend.

    Cara, this is stellar!!! And the lot o' youse who've put "Ruthys" in books, take note!!! I raised me a lawyer!

    I love being in books, and laughed like crazy at Virginia's bossy old Mrs. Herne.... (VIRGINIA IS A BRAT, PASS IT ON!!!)

    And Mary killed a young version of me, and now gave me a book, so I think I haunt her.

    And that's good.

    I had to be careful with The Lawman's Second Chance because everyone knows I based the breast cancer fight on my friend Lisa's battle with breast cancer... But I made the fictional Lisa a Yankees fan.

    Laughing out loud!!!! The real Lisa is NOT AMUSED.

    But I am, and that's all that matters!

    Cara, I'm printing this off and mulling these points because I love tucking folks into books.

    Hey, more macadamia nut white chocolate cookies here!!! And fish fry tonight.

    Color me HAPPY!!!!

  22. Mary, I loved that Christmas novella starring your grandparents! In the future you could use them or a couple like them as background characters. They could be the stable ones.

  23. Vince, I agree it's the personality that makes the character interesting. It's what makes the character tick combined with their quirks etc. that form 'someone' you remember.

    I think Scarlett O'Hara was based on one of Margaret Mitchell's relatives.

  24. Cara, great post! I have a local writer friend who did get sued and lost the case. So you really, REALLY do need to be careful.

    I love your ideas and example. I've never based any one character on someone in particular. But I've borrowed their names as well as individual characteristics (such as the distinctive sound of a voice of a friend of mine).

  25. LOL, Carol! I think we know who that sweet and spicy person is. :)

  26. Jackie, your customer does sound like an interesting character! You could make up a really good story for her. :)

  27. Virginia has a new book!! So cool! Will go look for it...

  28. Virginia, your grandparents romance is the perfect example of how you have to change around a true-life story to make an interesting plot.

  29. Jackie, you could have a lot of fun making up a story about the lady who comes into your store. In fact, it would probably be more interesting than her real story.

  30. Ha! I have circumvented this issue and created my own issue. LOL. I have created a fictional place named after a real person from Seekerville who is actually never an onscreen personality.

    Mending the Doctor's Heart features Patti Jo's Cafe and Bakery.

    Patti Jo = CatMom Friend of Seekerville

    Well, Patti Jo kept bringing all these amazing treats to Seekerville, muffins, cake, pies and such and I needed a bakery/cafe.

    So Patti Jo's was born.

    This fictional place based on a real character will be featured in all the Paradise books to come.

    She will be infamous!!!

  31. Dawn, it's interesting how many of us have wonderful grandparent stories.

    My grandparents' story had a sad ending. They'd been happily married for 5 1/2 years when my grandmother had her third baby. About a week later my grandmother died as the result of gestational diabetes leaving my grandfather with a newborn, a 2 year old (my mother) and a 5 year old.

    I have a hand painted Limoges plate hanging on my living room wall. It was a wedding present to them in 1907.

  32. Cara, thanks for the fun post! I've never used a real person as a character in my stories, but I think all characters share traits of someone we know or have seen. Even ourselves! Mercy, how many of us put traits and personalities that belong to us in our books without realizing it? Or maybe we do and that makes it fun. At least if we borrow ourselves, we won't be threatened with a lawsuit. LOL


  33. I have tried to stay away from creating characters based on people I know, without a lot of success. I find myself blending characteristics of several different people I admire and so far it has worked. Of course, I have to work at getting the flaws embedded in them as well or my story would be about angels. :)

    Blessings to you all today!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  34. Excellent post! I'm currently writing nonfiction and am finding it difficult to portray an accurate, truthful picture of a person without exposing more than is necessary to understand the story and avoid legal action.

  35. Ruthy? I killed off a young versions of you?
    I am WRACKING my brain. I don't remember doing any such thing. (which doesn't mean I didn't, it just means I've got air pockets in my brain and one of them is apparently settled in this particular area of my memory.

  36. I really have the heroine in Swept Away, named Ruthy, be Ruthy-ish.

    Not sure why but that was really fun to type. It may be a bit too early on a blizzardy morning and I should probably be banned from the computer for a while.

  37. Rose, I hope your fictional characters were nice ones and not the villains! Wouldn't it be funny if someone thought they recognized the villain! I bet villains are more apt to sue than the virtuous characters.

  38. Hi, Sandra! Have you ever purposely put a friend in a story than disguised her? I haven't, but if I get brave I will, but disguise so he's unrecognizable. Maybe a person from my distant past would be good.

  39. Ruthy, I put a little girl Ruthie in Love on Assignment, but I wrote the book before I met you.

    I think you're an archetypal character (don't ask me which one!) so you or characters like you will often turn up as fictional heroines! Editors want lovable, feisty heroines like you, not introverted bookworms like me. And that's just fine.

  40. Missy, did the author who lost the case have to pay $$$ The thought of it makes my blood run cold.

  41. A wonderful posting...

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  42. I've been AWOL this week. Our kids and grandkids from Arkansas have been visiting, and this weekend we have the boys (all teenagers!!!) by themselves while their parents attend a marriage conference. It's cold and rainy, so the boys will be burning up the Wii.

    Anyway, I loved your post, Cara. Lots of important advice here. I have to admit, it's so fun to name supporting or walk-on characters for my Seeker friends! Whenever I purposely use a real person's name, I try to make sure the person will be honored and not embarrassed or insulted.

    (And I promise, I have ABSOLUTELY forgiven Mary for that aged, incontinent "Myra" character because I'm pretty sure Mary hadn't met me back then. If she had, she would certainly have made me young, beautiful, and healthy.)

  43. Hey Seekerville!

    Thanks for the column, Cara!
    My family thinks I base stories on them. When my family heard about my final placement a few weeks ago when I sent them the link, my sister asked if the story (A Virtuous Ruby) was about her! I told her, No way! I don't think she liked my response too much.....


  44. Myra -

    The lovely heroine of my second historical is named Myra. She's kind of sort of the villain [not really, but she could be perceived that way - but then she gets book 2 ;)]. She's sweet and spunky.

    And not incontinent at all.

  45. I knew I could count on you, Carol!!!

  46. FUN POST, CARA!!!

    LOVE Mary's comment: "Real people are a little too reasonable and sane to really work in a book."

    LOL ... I totally agree, which worries me a wee bit since I mostly use aspects of my own personality to create my characters, I suppose because I have SO MANY quirks, there's enough to go around for an entire family!!

    And the good news is that I can never sue myself, so I'm safe. :)


  47. CAROL M ... touching story about the Panera guy. :)

    TINA ... LOVE that Patti Jo is immortalized in your book!!

    I had fun putting Vince in my last book, A Love Surrendered. He was a distinguished older gentleman who wrote romance on the side and liked to talk to his catechism teacher, Faith O'Connor, about it ... :)

    Vince hasn't sued me yet, thank God ...


  48. I like to use names of people I know - but I stick them on characters that are nothing like their namesake.

    So Ruthy, if my Ruthy book gets published, I don't think you'll be able to claim the character is you. She's really based on my grandmother, but only certain aspects of her.

    I like Mary's comment: "Real people are a little too reasonable and sane to really work in a book. So sometimes some thing someone does might inspire a character but I almost immediately warp them beyond recognition."

    Right. Who wants to read about real people? Most real people are boringly normal.

    And Cara, my great-grandparents had a story similar to your grandparents - Grandma Maud died in childbirth when her third child was born, leaving Grandpa Eugene with a five year old, four year old, and newborn. But he was unable to handle the situation. The baby was adopted out, and the boys were put in an orphan's home (this was about 1907). Someday I'll put that in a story.

    Oh, and please put me in the drawing - I know my church library would appreciate the books.

  49. CARA: About personality: I remember heroines that I would like to marry. That would bring to mind: Addy in “Courting Miss Adelaide”, your heroine in “Love on a Dime”, Ruth’s heroine in her story where the father lost his housing development to the hero, Hannah Hughes in “A House full of Hope”, Emma in “A Heart Revealed’, Faith in ”APMP”, and I’m sure there are others but these are the ones that rang my bell. Addy is still ringing it after all these years! ☺

    BTW: Do women readers also think of heroes that they would like to marry? Any suggestions?

    RUTH: I think the unkindest cut of all was Hymie Herne – the merchant prince. I think Mary was out of control on that one.

    VIRGINIA: I didn’t know “Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits: Jane Austen Takes the South” was also a Roman à clef. How Continental. And here I thought it was really Tulsa University. I’m pretty sure the building where I taught was named Chapman Hall. (It was the round building for any locals who might know.) All the other buildings seem to fit TU to a T.

    The other side of the question is this: how many of our fictional characters do readers believe are taken from real people they know!


  50. Hi Cara,
    I just realized that you may have thought I was being snide with my 'thanks for the reminder' comment! What I meant was thanks for reminding that we need to remain diligent to avoid issues. Ugh, it was late when I commented, but I should have been more careful with my word choice!

    Yes, my encounter with the literary attorney was fascinating and he would make a great foil in a contemporary book, but that one will be the one I have published after my death, haha. It was hard because I knew my facts were solid. It would have been lovely to have asked the person to verify my findings, but she died in 1928. However, I was provided her diaries by her son and those were the words that drove my findings. I suppose it's needless to say, but the attorney won and I was forced to modify my work.

    I know what you mean about pushing it out of your mind. Those sleepless nights rarely return, but the anxious worry is an emotion that a lot of my characters seem to encounter!

  51. And blogger just reproduced my work without my permission, ;)

  52. Oh, and if the Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes is using family stories/diaries, then I guess I've got a precedent if someone challenges my using my own family stories! My scuffle with the attorney had to do with 'putting words' into the mouth of a historical figure and the 'hearsay' clause. Fun.

  53. I NEVER ONCE SAID THE MYRA IN MY BOOK WAS INCONTINENT!!!! (although I believe it was 'understood')

  54. Tina, are you going to give the real Patti Jo credit as your inspiration in your book acknowledgements? Congratulations to Patti Jo!

  55. I promise my next heroine will be named Myra. And she will be young and beautiful and tough and in ALL WAYS she will be exactly like OUR Myra.

    ---and when I say 'next book' I mean not this series, it's too late for that. And not the NEXT three book series, it's already proposed and the characters named, but after THAT, for sure.
    (someone make sure and remind me, 'k?)

  56. Janet, I'm sure I put some of my own traits into my stories, but I'm not aware I'm doing it. But if I character reacts as I would it's seems like such a normal reaction!
    But a more outgoing or highstrung character would probably not react like I would

  57. Great answer Mary. :)

    I was loosely basing my new character on some of my mother-in-law's characteristics, when I realized, my heroine is more like me. :)

    Jodie Wolfe

  58. NAMING a character after someone is really different that what Cara is talking about which is using their character and their life.

    I am right now in the midst of a series where I whimsically named a LOT of characters after Seekers and frankly it's sort of confusing and disturbing.
    I've got a Ruthy, Glynna, Tina, Janet and Missy.....and honestly if some strange phrase shows up in my book that seems more like a Blogger comment...well, I apologize.
    I've also got a hero named Vince. Fun, but again, sometimes I get a little overwhelmed.
    I also have a sister named Ruth and that got a little stressful at times. For some reason I didn't mind dangling Ruthy Logan Herne from a cliff and having her whacking people over the head with a gun butt and getting SWEPT AWAY in a flash flood, but I felt kinda bad doing all that to my sister.

  59. Cindy, it's sometimes hard to give characters flaws unless they're the villain and not every story has a real villain. You can't give a hero a terrible flaw or one with an ick factor. A man with a wild temper while protecting a child or a woman is okay, but a child molester definitely isn't. It's impossible to turn a creep into a hero no matter how much you try to make him grow, repent etc. I'd still have that awful image in my mind.

  60. Edwina, I'd find it so hard to write non-fiction! Maybe someone could give you a few tips... Anyone?

  61. Myra, company can keep you away from the computer! Have a great time with them.

    I like to use Seeker names in my books too, or find my name in books.

  62. Edwina, it's a fine line. I have a book out that is short biographies of Illinois women and that is the one that got me in trouble with the lawyer. Actually, it was an argument that was going to be costly and take a lot of time, so I changed what was offensive even though I'd deduced my findings from the actual writings of the historical woman. Perhaps the best way to proceed is write it, and run it by a literary attorney for your peace of mind. Good luck with your project!

  63. I have a friend who has requested to be in a book with a specific caveat, he wants to be offed in an unusual manner. The reason is that friends of his appeared as villains in one of Barry Eisler's novels and my friend wants the same treatment. (You know you've got your work cut out for you when someone asks to be knocked off by something that beats "being microwaved.")

  64. This post comes at the perfect time, when I'm working on characters for a future story, using my sisters as 'templates.'

    I'd like to think they wouldn't throw a lawsuit at me, but no sense in taking chances. LOL ;)

    nicnac63 AT hotmail DOT com

  65. This post comes at the perfect time, when I'm working on characters for a future story, using my sisters as 'templates.'

    I'd like to think they wouldn't throw a lawsuit at me, but no sense in taking chances. LOL ;)

    nicnac63 AT hotmail DOT com

  66. MARY!

    A hero named Vince!

    That calls for some special creativity.

    “Go West on Young Romantic Cowboy!”

    Mary Connealy rhymes with Horace Greeley!

    "...and the West was never the same."

    ☺☻☺☻☺☻ ♥♥♥♥♥

  67. I have a heroine named Ruthie.

    She loves little kids.

    So there's no chance of being mistaken for another Ruthy is there?


  68. Oh my gosh, I'm dying over these comments!

    Lyndee, I snorted coffee when I read Blogger repro'd your comments without permission.

    And Ruthy- you made her a Yankees fan?? HA! My best friend to the rival unversity (OSU) and had a bumper sticker for years that was a rude comment on the UO crowd. I refused to ride in her car. Now I made her character a UO crazy football fan. HA! Revenge! She screamed like a banshee when she read that line.

    Walt- being microwaved?? You can alsways search in the Darwin awards? They have tons of weird but real deaths.

    Oh, Ruthy again- your character Mrs. Herne was one of my favorites. I just love her, watching out for all the men.

    And just be glad you're not my friend Lili. I FORGOT I used her in the P&P book and when she read it, she texted me and said "I'm DEAD???"

    OOOps. A beautiful, wonderful character. The dead first wife. She gets a lot of talk time because she was such a funny and gracious human being.

    But she's still dead. My friend Lili is saying I can only make it up to her by naming a baby after her. She loves babies.

  69. Yes, Mary C, true on the naming vs using the real person.

    I have a friend who asked to be 'named' in a novel, but then when it came out, she didn't 'recognize' herself. She thought her entire person would be in there.

  70. Thanks, MISSY! But Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits is under the name Mary Jane Hathaway, to keep the contemporary series separate.

    I did just put up another book under Virginia Carmichael, but it's a historical romance. *whew* Historicals authors really have my respect. What a lot of work!

  71. Hi, Piper! DO you base your stories on your family?

    I wouldn't mean to offend anyone if I wrote about my family, but what if they think otherwise? I wouldn't want to spend the rest of my life apologizing!

  72. Julie, I'd love to use you as a character! Do I dare?

  73. Jan, sorry your great-grandparent story didn't end as well as mine did.

    Here's the rest of the story. My grandfather didn't want to break up his family by sending his kids to different relatives. So he and the kids moved in with his inlaws. His poor mil had already raised 9 of her own, and she wasn't young. They all lived together for 7 years until my grandfather married his wife's sister. They had 2 more kids and they all lived happily ever after.

    My mother adored her family!

  74. Cara, it's been so long I can't remember on the money aspect. I'm fairly certain she had to eat a chunk of it herself. Not sure about her publisher.

  75. I use unique things from people i've met over the years so my characters tend to be "hybrids".

    I wouldn't mind being put in a book, except I'm probably not interesting enough. The only "quirk" of mine that comes to mind is that I'm an animator and tend to see objects as animate instead of inanimate - especially my computer. I talk to it nicely most of the time so it doesn't crash in the middle of a graphics project.

    I think as long as I'm not the villanous person, I'd enjoy seeing how an author would turn me into a character worthy of being immortalized on paper.

    This is a good post though. I shall keep it well in mind. I'd hate to have someone sue me or be hurt because I took too much creative license with them.

  76. Vince, my heroine in Love on a Dime was Lilly Westbrook.

    My heroes are beta so I'd be thrilled to marry any of them!

  77. Don't worry, Lyndee, I didn't take your comment the wrong way.

    Walt, even though your friend has a reason, I still think he's a little strange! Throw him in the clothes dryer!

  78. Jodie, even though my mil died 11 years ago, I'm going to be merciful and let her rest in peace.

  79. Cheryl, maybe you should use somebody else's sisters as templates and keep peace in the family! Ask Mary, she has a lot of sisters and daughters.

  80. Deb H, I'm not interesting enough to be put in a book either! Well maybe we both could be secondary characters. I'm not the heroine type. Too quiet.

  81. Hi Cara! I mostly I use my larger family to write stories about and not my immediate ones. I think my immediate family has been looking for me to do it, but my mother has so many cousins who are always creating drama, I don't have time for my parents and my sister who thinks of herself as virtuous!

  82. I'm late today. Couldn't get here last night.

    Sorry about no coffee. Can't plug in the coffee pot.

    We have no electricity, and we've been told it could be days before we get it back. A tree limb fell on a line and snapped it out of our house, along with some of the siding.

    I'm visiting my son to get online.

    I have one book that I wrote using some real family members' descriptions and personalities. When I edited it, I made some changes :)
    But I had fun while writing it. :)


  83. I'm so glad you made it, Helen, but I'm sorry about your electricity. I hope it gets fixed sooner rather than later.

    What a good idea to write down things about your family. I wish my mother, 'the family historian' had written down her stories.

  84. Cara, such an interesting blog and the comments have been fun!

    There was a physician in a neighboring town that wrote fiction (He got up early, like our Ruthy, and penned pages longhand that his cousin then typed). He fictionalized his youth, and many of the locals recognized the characters in his books. Evidently some didn't like the stories he revealed that should have remained secret.

    He died recently. An amazing man who will be missed. His name is Ferrol Sams, and his books were/are delightful reads.

    The library hosted a signing when he published his last book. Folks stood in line for three to four hours to see him...

    Doctor Sams was admired and loved by so many.

  85. I finally have a chance to come back and comment. I went to a workshop once where an author said that if you want to put someone in your book and you don't want them to sue you then put them in with some horrible attribute that they would never admit to.

    Seems like a lot of work just to passive aggressively tell your coworker she's a snit.

  86. Hi, Debby! Good for Dr. Sams! I'm afraid I don't have his courage.

  87. That was an interesting post. I'd love to win some books.


  88. Tina -

    Seems like something along those lines happened in "The Help".


  89. I have had my first name used in a book. Cheryl Wyatt name a character after myself and another lady but that was it.

    I can understand about disguising a person. especially if it was easy to recognise the person. I do like taking traits from people and adding others and changing situations.

    A bit late posting. I have decided Im a danger to myself when walking! somehow fell yesterday thing I slipped on an edge of course landed on the sore wrist. thankfully had the back slab (like a half cast) on and it protected it more than the newer bracer would have. It did jar it and today its aching more but Im ok. just cant take me anywhere.

  90. Loved this post, Cara! I have an extremely talkative character in my historical ms and I really had fun creating her (based on *several* talkative people I know). ~ Wanted to let you know I received A PATH TOWARD LOVE a few days ago and was thrilled!! Cannot wait to read it and know I'll love it---THANKS sooo much (I'd won it from you not long ago).
    TINA!!!! When I read your first comment, I thought you wrote that I'd be "famous" - - then realized the word was "INfamous" LOL....oh well...But I am SO honored and blessed by this, and will do my best to continue baking yummy delicacies. *wink* Hugs, Patti Jo

  91. You would be famous, Patti Jo, if it was a Big Name author. But now you are just famous in my hometown of Silver Creek,NY. Is that famous enough for you? My mother thinks you are a movie star. She read my book already.

  92. Cara, I just settled in to read comments an there are more than 90 (!) So one question in case it hasn't been answered ... have you ever had someone think you based a character on them when you didn't?

    Nancy C

  93. Nancy, no one thought I based a character on them when I didn't. But I've never done it, at least not yet. A few 'characters' I've met really stick in my mind so maybe sometime I'll put them in a story disguised, of course.

  94. Hi, Patti Jo! I think talkative characters are really popular. For a talkative type you can write a lot of dialogue which is one of my favorite parts of writing.

  95. Hi, Michelle! Thanks for stopping by.

    Jenny -- Jenny is one of my favorite names. I put it in a book but my editor asked me to change it. She might've thought it was too popular and too many authors name their heroines Jenny! Since I write historicals my characters 'real' name would've been Genevieve. I don't think Jennifer was common around the turn of the century.

    Are you Jenny or Jennifer?

  96. Im a Jennifer and not a Jennifer Anne but Jennifer Alice. but have been Jenny most of my life. Its became really popular in the 60's There were about 3 Jenny's in my class and about 6 or 7 in the year level.
    Jennifer is a for of Genevieve. Its also welsh I found out.

  97. Jenny, I also like the name Alice. It's a great name for Gilded Age historicals. It was so popular around the turn of the century. My daughter's name is Alicia.

  98. I love the fact that Vince is still in love (Sorry Mrs. Vince) with Miss Adelaide!

    And - I hope Helen stays warm tonight. No power is no fun.

  99. Tina, you've made me smile!!! (and please tell your mother she's wonderful--like her daughter).
    Hugs, Patti Jo :)

  100. Can't wait to read about Patti Jo's the way, eat your heart out, Tina. Patti Jo and I are meeting for lunch on Tuesday. Shall we send a picture to the WE?

  101. Jenny, sorry about your fall. Take good care of yourself. We want you in good shape for your trip to the USA!

  102. Thanks Debby. not to sore today. wrist is a bit sore but not really any worse. I now have my hotel booked in Atlanta. its a La Quinta.

  103. What are the dates, Jenny, and where is it located?

  104. Monday May 6th. Its La Quinta Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport
    4820 Massachusetts Blvd

  105. I wonder if the person you model a character on would recognize themselves with all the changes?


  106. I love how you wonderful writers come up with awesome characters. I often feel I've made new friends when I read a book.

    MinDaf @

  107. I would love to win,Enter me!!!
    Thanks for the giveaway and God Bless!!!
    Sarah Richmond

  108. Cara, Great post! I haven't read all the comments, so maybe you've dealt with this already. Here's my dilemma.

    My story deals with current events in China (forced abortion and forced sterilization). Using news stories, I've given all my characters fictitious names except for two national figures: Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights lawyer who escaped house arrest during Hilary Clinton's visit to Beijing last year, and Reggie Littlejohn who advocates for Chinese women through her organization Women's Rights without Frontiers.

    Chen Guangchang plays a minor role in the story and all his dialogue comes from quotes in news stories. But Reggie Littlejohn is a major character in my book, and extremely likable.

    Miss Littlejohn is ambivalent about being named in the book. On the one hand she sees value in the exposure this story may give her organization. On the other hand, she's not sure. I'm wondering what you'd recommend.

    I'm leaning toward renaming her character and recognizing in notes or in a forward, Reggie Littlejohn's great work on behalf of women's rights in China. (BTW, she's a litigation attorney and so I really want to handle this right.) Thanks, Cara.

  109. Julie, if you have an agent I'd check with her/him first. My instinct is to be very, very careful about naming real people in a book especially if they're still alive. They may not like it.

    The safest thing is to get Reggie Littlejohn's permission in writing. I wouldn't take someone's okay verbally. That seems risky to me. I'm not a lawyer so of course I can't give you legal advice. I don't know the answer to what exactly could get you in legal trouble. Check with an attorney.

    If you sell your book talk this over with your editor. The publisher will have a legal department who can help you. Good luck!

  110. Thank you, Cara. I will proceed with caution. May God bless you.

  111. I will add as further word of caution that no matter how tempting it is to add ex-boyfriends and past loves, don't. It would be very embarrassing to have someone recognize the person you are referring to. If you do use a past love then make sure the characters as well as the plot is very different from real life.
    I have been tempted to use some really great stories I have heard the last few years but I know they would have to be changed to not offend people. But maybe someday I can give them a chance.